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Have Bill Clinton's Ethical Lapses Damaged His Legacy?Aired February 13, 2001 - 1:15 p.m. ET
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LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Has Bill Clinton managed to irreparably damage that which most presidents prize above all else: their place in history? We can't know yet, of course, but we can speculate. And for that we're joined on the telephone from New Orleans by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
Mr. Brinkley, this is supposed to be quiet time for ex- presidents, but as you heard Ken Rudin of NPR suggest that perhaps maybe Mr. Clinton shot himself in the foot and did irreparable harm to his own legacy here.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think he did some serious harm to his legacy. If we can beam ourselves back to the time of his impeachment problem and Lewinsky problem, one would not have believed Clinton by, let's say, December of this past year could have been in such high standings, meaning he got us through the Kosovo war, he was creating national monuments. "The New York Times" ran a series of glowing profiles about his legacy, saying he was the master of the American boom economy of the 1990s.
During the Florida recount, Bill Clinton handled himself very well. He was in Vietnam. He made a couple of slight jokes, but he stayed out of the fray. And he seemed to have been presidential and was getting better press than one could have expected in early January.
Well, then suddenly he made a few mistakes, which you've been talking about today, not the least, though, was after the inaugural address by George W. Bush, Bill Clinton went out to Andrews Air Force Base and gave his second farewell address, seeming to steal the thunder, steal center stage. And then, of course, the apartment, the furniture being "looted" so-called out of the White House, which I think is an exaggerated story. But one does get the image of "The Beverly Hillbillies" cleaning out the goods, and you know, driving off into the sunset.
And then most horribly really is this pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive, somebody who in many ways has a treasonous past in his dealing with Libya and with Iran while the United States had embargoes on doing so with those countries: clearly, an unpatriotic fellow, Marc Rich, no matter what one might say about the money he gives to Clinton's coffers.
So I think he's done some great damage, but as you're seeing with Harlem, Bill Clinton knows how to bounce up and the resilience factor is there. And I think you have a bigger danger, Lou, of the fact that he's going to loom so large over the next four year in the media that it's going to be hard for another Democrat to start getting any headlines.
WATERS: Yeah, we're watching these pictures of Mr. Clinton being literally mobbed in Harlem while we reveal the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, which indicates that a majority of Americans are not bothered by these -- these dustups that we're hearing about, the pardons and the office space and all the rest. And this man clearly loves the spotlight.
But I was struck, if you can see up and down 125th Street, a number of live television trucks. The media loves this man to be in spotlight, too, don't -- do they not?
BRINKLEY: Absolutely so. I once was asked to equate him to another American figure, preferably a president, and people say he's like Nixon or somebody. He's most like Elvis Presley in the sense that people can, you know, loathe him or dislike him or think he's untalented. But he has this certain political gift that draws people him, there's a magnetism to him.
One thing we all said about Clinton in the White House was he always seemed like he was talking directly at you. Just as the way Elvis Presley was singing, he seemed to be singing directly at you. And they come from the same part of the Delta area of, you know, Hope and Hot Springs and Presley from Tupelo and Memphis. And there's a kind of a charisma factor.
And I think in this modern age, the fact that Bill Clinton is going to be garnering headlines and every day he's going to be followed and analyzed can serve in his favor and Hillary's favor, because it makes them the greatest, at least, curiosities in America. And they get what most politicians strive for, constant coverage, even if they have to take their hard knocks along the way.
WATERS: Douglas Brinkley, you behave yourself there in New Orleans.
BRINKLEY: All right.
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